How to talk to your elected representatives about guns
At the GRNC rally yesterday, one of the key ideas was to get the participants to visit their representatives and ask for their support. This serves two critical functions. First, it proves that the rally participants were not a “rent-a-mob” as we have seen so often on the other side. Second, it gives a sense of the importance we place on the issue. Sending an email is one thing. Taking time off of work, getting in your car and driving from Asheville to Raleigh on a Tuesday shows a higher level of commitment.
Talking to folks in the crowd, I was amazed at how many people skipped the “visit-your-representatives” part of the day. The sense that I got from the crowd is that most were unsure of what to say, what to do, or how to go about it. While a group of us went around, Sean conducted an impromptu lesson on how to lobby your representative. I have distilled the key lessons below. I give you George’s Handy Dandy Guide to Lobbying:
- Don’t be nervous. These guys talk to all kinds of people every day. One of their core skill sets is making *you* feel comfortable. Let them.
- If you are still nervous, bring a friend! It’s sometimes easier as a group than as an individual.
- You need to know who your representatives are. The receptionists in the legislative building are very helpful, but they probably don’t know who your people are. And districts generally span zip codes, so that might not even help. An easy way to find this out is through the Ruger or Smith and Wesson links. Just punch in your address, and you are off to the races.
- Once you find your representatives office, you might find that their legislative assistant is busy. That’s ok…let them see you and they should ask if they can help you shortly. You might also find lobbyists waiting. Good news: you are a constituent. You go to the head of the line.
- Make sure you identify yourself as a constituent, so they know you are asking to talk to your representative not a representative.
- A note on dress: dress professionally, if at all possible. Remember the old saying about first impressions? I look like a cadaver warmed over in a suit, so I adopt my “Geek Chic” look: nice new jeans and a button down shirt. If you can pull off a suit, all better. But the ratty t-shirt with “SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED!!1!1!!eleven!” might want to stay at home.
- Be polite. Smile. Be confident. You are a nice person with a reasonable request.
- Your representative might not be in his or her office. If that’s the case, no problem. Let the legislative assistant know who you are, why you stopped by, and thank them for their time.
An aside at this point. The legislative assistant is the representative’s helper. They are what we in sales call an influencer. They can’t make the decision, but they can either grease the ways or slow you down. You do not want to alienate these people. Also, just because a Representative or Senator hasn’t been a supporter in the past doesn’t mean that his or her legislative assistant isn’t a supporter…or could become one. One of the offices we visited was to a historically anti-gun Senator. We chatted with the legislative assistant, and one of the people with us, an older woman who was a pistol instructor invited her out for a lesson. The assistant took her up on it. We planted a seed. Will it bear fruit? Who knows? But if nothing else, we have changed her frame from “those crazy gun people” to “those nice people who stopped by.”
- Your representative gets lot of people telling them lots of things. You don’t want to give them a laundry list of what you want them to do. This isn’t the time to educate them on the origin of the Second Amendment. Keep it short and sweet and something that they can remember. For us at the rally, the message was simple: “Yes to restaurant carry.” If they continue the conversation, then you can bring up other topics.
- Don’t threaten to vote them out if they don’t cooperate…that’s probably not helpful. A better way to make the same point would be to say something like: “This issue is very important to me; in fact it is the most important issue I consider when deciding to support a candidate for office.”
When I am trying to persuade a person of something, I always ask myself “What is the feeling that I want the person to come away with?” Studies have shown that decision making is sometimes more emotional than rational. The feeling that we want our lawmakers to come away with is that some decent, reasonable people who care deeply about an issue made some thoughtful points. The opposite of what we want them feeling is that some ratty looking hillbilly came into my office screaming about his rights and tried to bully me. See Yeager, James for examples.
Finally, here is a sample of what I said to the people that I spoke with, if it’s helpful.
“Hello, <Name>, my name is George, and I’m one of your constituents. I’m out here today for the Grassroots NC rally, because I feel very strongly about supporting our gun rights. One of the important bills on the calendar this year is restaurant carry. I’d like to ask you to support that bill. It doesn’t make any sense that I can carry concealed in one kind of restaurant and not another. Thank you for your time, and thank you for seeing me.”
In, out, less than two minutes. Easy peasy.